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Genetically Modified Organisms Control Amendment Bill 2019 (No 33)

[3.15 p.m.]

Ms ARMITAGE (Launceston) - Mr President, I also thank the Leader for the briefings provided and the people who came along and took the time speak with us and provide very useful information. I note the advice that we are the only state that still has a moratorium, with South Australia, except for Kangaroo Island, having recently reviewed and lifted its moratorium, as it was seen as no value to that state or its farmers. I accept that there needs to be strict rules around how it works, but with flexibility. With technology changing rapidly, it is important that farmers are not disadvantaged by a moratorium, and we need to be flexible so they are not left behind. From the ABC's 'Tasmanian Country Hour' on 8 August 2019, the transcript reads -

Tasmania's ban on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will continue for another 10 years. Fruit growers and honey producers could not be happier, but some farmers say it is a missed opportunity. … Tasmania is the only state to have a blanket GMO ban, which has been in place since 2001 after genetically altered canola escaped from trial crops at secret sites around the state. They quote the minister, Mr Barnett - 'In the past 12 months our agricultural production has increased by 9 per cent, or $1.6 billion, and our GMO-free status is an important part of the Tasmanian brand' …

The article continues -

Stuart Burgess from Fruit Growers Tasmania said the multi-million dollar sector relied on Tasmania's pure reputation and its GMO-free status. 'It's an extremely important issue for the fruit sector and we welcome the certainty of the next 10 years,' he said. But farmer and molecular geneticist Will Bignall said Tasmania was shooting itself in the foot on GMOs. He would like to consider growing genetically modified crops such as omega 3 canola and other fortified seed crops. He argued the GMO-free market brand did not have a strong presence. 'We have a climate problem that we have to rectify, and regardless of what you argue, gene technology is a critical plan in that solution,' Mr Bignall said. 'Here in Tasmania we are saying no to that solution based on a market premise, based on emotion, as there is nil scientific evidence that it's unsafe or dangerous,' he says. The three main genetically modified crops grown in Australia are cotton, canola and safflower, with crops in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. But a lot of Tasmanian producers are happy those types of crops would not be coming to the island state. Honey producer Peter Norris said it was wonderful news. Tasmania's honey industry has been vehemently against lifting the GMO ban because overseas markets in Europe and Japan bought Tasmanian honey because it was GMO-free . 'We are such a small producer of everything, we really need to maximise our advantages,' Mr Norris said.

I ask the question: do we have a clear reason and objective evidence for this amendment? I note the decision to extend the moratorium for a further 10 years followed a comprehensive review undertaken earlier this year by DPIPWE, and that there were 76 submissions with 83 per cent in favour of extending the moratorium. We all know that bees pollinate crops . Bees keep plants and crops alive, and without bees we humans would not have much to eat. Ms Forrest - Humans would die. Ms ARMITAGE - That is right. I note there was tripartite support in the other place. I am sure this does not happen very often. I am confident we all agree that Tasmania is special, and that our clean, green image is important to us all, as well as the future of niche producers. I appreciate that opponents of this moratorium are concerned that banning GMO products stops us being competitive with mainland states. We heard from beekeeper Lindsay Bourke that being GMO-free has given his business access to valuable markets. This sentiment is shared by many. I agree that once it has gone, you can never get it back. Mr Bourke advised in briefings that he believes we need a decade-long commitment, as developing markets and sales takes many years. He believes that a 10-year moratorium gives people confidence to invest. Ten years gives everyone much-needed security. Therefore, through a simple amendment to change the expiration period from 15 years to 25 years, this bill will extend the act, with the expiry date changing from November 2019 to November 2029. It is pleasing to see that the Government will continually monitor technological advances, markets and consumer sentiments, with DPIPWE providing a report to the minister at least every three years on developments in these areas, and that these reviews will also consider stakeholder views and changes in market and consumer sentiment. I also note that DPIPWE will advise the minister, if, based on the evidence from these reviews, there are significant developments in these areas that warrant the triggering of a review of the policy before the maximum 10 years and that the Government will continue to regularly monitor technological advances, markets and consumer sentiment. In view of this information, I agree that this bill is a sensible and balanced approach and I will support it. Bill read the second time.

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